The Hague, Netherlands, Sep 29 – Former Ivory Coast president Laurent Gbagbo will Monday ask the International Criminal Court to acquit him on all charges of crimes against humanity and release him after seven years in detention.
On trial since 2016, Gbagbo is the first-ever head of state to be handed over to the Hague-based ICC.
Now 73, he faces four counts of crimes against humanity for his role in fomenting a wave of post-electoral violence eight years ago in the west African nation.
After more than two years on trial, Gbagbo’s lawyers believe the prosecution failed to prove the charges and are demanding a “full dismissal, an acquittal on all charges” and Gbagbo’s immediate release.
“We are confident that president Laurent Gbagbo will be acquitted, released and will be able to return to his country,” said Justin Koua, the youth chairman of a coalition of political parties including Gbagbo’s own Ivorian Popular Front (FPI) as well as civil society groups.
“Mr Gbagbo is suffering an injustice,” he told AFP.
Defence lawyers also want the same for Gbagbo’s right-hand man Charles Ble Goude, 46, leader of the “Young Patriots” group which allegedly murdered and raped hundreds of people in order to keep Gbagbo in charge.
Judges joined the two men’s cases before trial started and both pleaded not guilty.
– ‘Clung to power’ –
Unrest wracked the Ivory Coast for five months from December 2010 until early 2011, after Gbagbo refused to accept his internationally-recognised defeat by bitter rival Alassane Ouattara.
The crisis — which saw both sides level allegations of gross abuses — paralysed the world’s largest cocoa producer and west African powerhouse for several months. About 3,000 people died when rival supporters clashed on the streets of Abidjan, which was then one of west Africa’s most cosmopolitan cities.
After a months-long standoff, Gbagbo was arrested by Ouattara’s troops aided by UN and French forces, and turned over to the ICC in 2011.
Prosecutors maintain Gbagbo clung to power “by all means” and that the long-time leader conspired with Ble Goude to orchestrate a plan to stay in power even before he was narrowly defeated by Ouattara.
“Nothing would be allowed to defeat Mr Gbagbo, and if politics failed, violence was seen as politics by other means,” ICC chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said at the trial’s opening.
Defence lawyers however say the prosecution has failed to prove its case beyond reasonable doubt, despite 82 witnesses testifying, thousands of documents of evidence and hundreds of hours of video.
– ‘Bluff’ –
If the judges indeed decide to free Gbagbo he could soon be following in his wife Simone Gbagbo’s footsteps.
Known as the “Iron Lady”, Simone Gbagbo walked away from a 20-year jail term in August when she was amnestied by Ouattara after seven years in detention.
On Monday the court’s proceedings are set to be televised on a giant screen in an Abidjan neighbourhood stronghold of Gbagbo and Ble Goude.
Several opposition figures are expected to attend the event billed as the “last steps before an acquittal” for the two leaders.
But the Ivorian state has blasted the move.
“The former Ivorian head of state is preparing to demand a dismissal even before the trial is completed and defence witnesses have been heard,” the Ivorian state’s lawyers said in a statement.
“It’s a bluff,” the lawyers said.